An author in a chat room I recently participated in mentioned that she didn’t use “bad words” in her sex scenes.
I feel compelled to confess that I do use words my momma would consider bad.
I don’t think I use them gratuitously, but I also don’t think I have a choice if I want to graphically convey a romantic, erotic sex scene that you’d find on adult sites, you think such adults wouldn’t swear? You can check tubev if you like this kind of porn, for more of a visual consumption.
In George Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother had pared down the language to the point that people couldn’t commit treason because the words no longer existed to enable them to think about it. Our language about sex is like that. I had a college psychology professor who once said that sex is easier to do than it is to talk about. No wonder. It’s our language that prevents us from talking about it. There aren’t many romantic, tender words available to describe the sex act. There are some, such as “making love,” but those words are much more rare than the other options available and even making love is fuzzy around the edges and not very precise.
Our language reflects the culture that created it.
In English, we have crude words (fuck, blow job, cunt) humorous words, (pee pee, Mr. Happy), ribald words that are humorous and crude (hide the sausage, mustache riding), and clinical words (cunnilingus, fellatio, coitus).
Perhaps it’s a harkening to our Puritanical roots or maybe we’re just screwed up, but Americans are ambivalent about sex. We live in a country in which porn is a huge, thriving industry, yet acting in a porno flick is deemed shameful and immoral; where teenagers continue to get pregnant but the efficacy of sex education is still debated in public schools; where politicians campaign on family values while conducting not-so-secret extra-marital affairs; where violent sports such football, boxing and hockey are national pastimes but a “wardrobe malfunction” national TV drives the nation into a tizzy; where a Miss America who parades around in heels and bathing suit can be dethroned if she poses nude. Where we say sex should be a private act yet we attempt to legislate who can do what behind closed doors.
This ambivalence has created a language that makes it difficult to talk about sex. We’re left with an odd assortment of words and phrases, none of which is appropriate to describe sexual relations in a detailed but tender and romantic way. Crude words shock us out of the moment, humorous words diffuse eroticism with laughter, ribald words make us snicker like sex is a dirty joke, and clinical words douse libido like a cold shower.
So what’s a writer who doesn’t want to fade to black or resort to flowery euphemistic prose to do?
The best she can by marshalling all her craft, using the few “good words” that do exist, occasionally relying on euphemism, and by adopting and thereby disarming the crude ones.
When I’m writing a romantic sex scene or when I’ve gotten my fingers caught in the garage door, there are times when only “fuck” will satisfy.
Where do you weigh in? Have you found writing sex scenes challenging because of the English language?